After interviewing fellow traveler Hampton S. about her experiences abroad, we wanted to flip the script on Katlyn T. and interview her!
Our travelers may know Katlyn from their EF Gap Year: she spent a month with a cohort of students on European Discovery as a Student Life Coordinator—but did you know she took a gap year between high school and college?
How long have you worked for EF Education First?
“Since the fall of 2021, as a full-time Traveler Support Specialist for EF Educational Tours.”
How did you first hear about EF?
“I had gone on an EF Tour in high school and it opened my eyes,” she says, recalling how her mother had found the fated brochure and, feeling inspired, enrolled herself, Katlyn, and Katlyn's aunt and grandmother on an EF trip to Italy and the Greek Isles.
Can you tell me more about your role as Travel Support Specialist?
“It’s fully customer-facing. My role is to communicate with customers and help with all the preparations for their Educational Tour (ET).” Whether it's about enrollment, passports and visas, or working with Tour Consultants and Departure Specialists, Katlyn is the primary resource for customers as they navigate the ET pre-departure process.
What made you want to work for/with EF Gap Year?
“Well, I took my own gap year after high school; after my EF Tour, I was daydreaming about traveling around the world, and being out in it, so I decided I was going to take a gap year. I started working at Dairy Queen when I was fifteen to save up,” Katlyn shares. She describes saving her tips in (literal) jar that said “traveling the world,” or a shoebox stashed under her bed for safe-keeping.
Because she’d completed her first two years of college during high school, Katlyn was able to finish her four years with a diploma and an Associate’s degree. “I left that August after graduation with a friend and we went to Europe, starting with Amsterdam then Brussels, Bruges, Paris, Annecy, Rome, and Sorento; then we ended up in Split, Croatia, and Tarifa, Spain.”
After that, Katlyn returned stateside, though it wasn’t very long before she began planning her second act. “I knew I wasn’t ready to be done: I wanted to keep exploring and keep pushing myself even further out of my comfort zone. I’d been home for two days and was like, ‘You know what? Bali is number one on my bucket list, and it has been for a while.’”
So it seemed like fate when she found a one-way ticket for $280, and, of course, she booked it. “I flew to Bali, and it was a whole journey getting there. Basically, when I got to LAX I was told that I couldn't board a one-way flight to Bali without a return ticket. So in that moment, I had to make a decision: either go home or go on. I calmed myself down and found a ticket to Australia for a month. That was my first real lesson, making a huge decision on my own and not giving up at the first roadblock.”
After arriving in Bali, Katlyn spent a month exploring the island. “Then I flew to Flores Island, famous for its Komodo Dragons, and took a three-hour boat ride across the Flores Sea to get to the reserve, Komodo National Park. The whole experience of getting there was just amazing! It’s the most remote place.”
From there, Katlyn traveled to Australia, where she spent three weeks living in a beach house in Surfers Paradise with a friend from high school. Following that, the New Smyrna Beach native flew home and finished her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida, during which she spent a semester studying in Seville.
Why do you think taking a gap year is important?
“Growing up in a small town, I feel like you have a limited perspective of life—what you can do, what you can achieve. Taking a gap year is so important because once you leave the small town mindset and mentality, once see how big the world is, you can do what you want, go where you want, be how you want. It gives you so much confidence to lead an exciting life—going out there knowing you’re comfortable being by yourself, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and navigating the world around you. A gap helps you develop so many life skills and discover that life is bigger than the little things. It puts everything into perspective, allowing you to have a more open mind and [greater] connection to other people.”
Can you speak to the responsibilities of the role of Student Life Coordinator?
“Essentially, fostering positive group dynamics: making sure everyone is doing okay, that everyone is getting along and having a good time, and are both physically and mentally in a safe space.”
What was the most rewarding part of your time as Student Life Coordinator? The most challenging?
“The most rewarding part [of the role of Student Life Coordinator] came at the end: the Tour Director and I had wrote postcards for the students, and some wrote letters back. It was emotional and bittersweet, because we’d been together for four weeks and developed a relationship. It was so rewarding to see their growth and appreciation. The most challenging? Handling difficult, dynamic situations.”
Where did you travel to on European Discovery?
"London, Normandy, Paris, Lucerne, Florence, Bologna, and Rome."
What was your favorite experience while on tour?
“Traveling to Lucerne, for sure. Going up to Mount Rigi by cable car, then train, then a tiny walk up—oh my God, I could’ve stayed up there for hours! I took my shoes off, stood in the grass, and meditated. I have fun in cities, but I’m a nature person, so that was amazing for me. I felt so at peace.”
What was your favorite meal while on tour?
“One night, the Tour Director and I had the evening free so we were going to get dinner together in East London,” Katlyn reminisces, describing their plan to try a highly-coveted curry shop. On the way, they were wowed by the origin story behind an unassuming place en route—and, having changed their minds (and plan), discovered the best curry they’ve ever had.
“Oh, the curry in London!” She says wistfully.
Were there any unexpected scenarios on the tour that led to opportunities for growth?
“Emergency situations are a a good reminder to stay calm in high stress circumstances.”
What would your advice be to future or prospective travelers?
“‘The universe rewards those who are brave.’ That’s something I live by—any time I’ve done that, I’ve walked away with a lesson learned, or stronger. [The times] I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone [are] undoubtedly some of the best moments of my life.”